Shortly after the Apollo 11 astronauts walked on the moon, each one returned to their respective hometown to be hailed as a hero: Neil Armstrong went to Columbus, Army brat Michael Collins was welcomed in his adopted New Orleans, and Buzz Aldrin, who in time would prove to be the coolest astronaut of them all, came back home to Montclair, New Jersey, two miles northwest from where I was born.
I showed up early and waited for the advance team to arrive. I talked my way into the press conference by flashing a few tearsheets from my high school newspaper; crucially, the NASA rep wrote my name on a press badge and handed me the first key to my future kingdom. I walked back into the empty and took a seat in the first row and waited by myself for what seemed like a very long time. Presently, the room packed out with television cameras, klieg lights, photographers and reporters. I had just turned fifteen, I looked twelve; but I was stubborn as a weed and no matter how many times I was told, I refused to move until suddenly, without warning, he was there! Flash bulbs popping… questions thrown, everyone jostling with no room to move. He sat down four feet in front of me, and I couldn’t take my eyes off him. I noticed his eyebrows were often stitched together and he did not look comfortable as he answered the questions:
“I feel good. I got my legs back. I feel good…
“It’s feels great to be back home in Montclair. I loved growing up here and I love coming back…
“Yes. We will soon leave to go on a good will tour around the world…”
Which all sounds very exciting, unless you’ve been to the moon last month. For my part, I was mesmerized, hypnotized, far beyond excited. I didn’t know what to feel. All I kept thinking was He’s just like Captain Kirk.
Captain Kirk was looking right at me. “Do you have a question?”
In a room completely packed with hard-boiled media professionals, the little kid in the first row sitting next to CBS did not go unnoticed.
“Do you have a question?”
“Uh… um…” He was waiting. They were all waiting. “Well… What were your first thoughts as you stepped on the moon’s surface?”
Actually, I was amazed no one had asked that already.
“My first thoughts as I stepped on the moon’s surface…” he said slowly, “were to assure myself I could get back up the ladder.”
Everyone in the room chuckled. It was a perfect answer. It showed his professionalism, a sense of humor and reflected the authentically American, can-do, no-nonsense values he presumably internalized when he was a boy in Montclair. It was too good an answer in some ways, and sounded a tad too rehearsed. I heard a almost imperceptible shiver in his voice, a slight frisson that I’ve since learned to recognize as my bullshit meter going off.
Later that afternoon I was part of the scrum of press following the spaceman around town and maybe because I was small or maybe because I was clever, I made myself invisible and went unnoticed as the Montclair police cleared the waiting area in the restaurant where the luncheon would be held. Suddenly a door closed behind me and, without warning, I was stuck in a wood paneled foyer the size of a walk-in closet with two or three men who were waiting for the outer walkway to be cleared. One of them was Colonel Aldrin.
He look at me looking at him – I’m certain he recognized me from the press conference — and I must have appeared as if I was staring at the face of God. Not being God, he smiled uneasily and said, “Hi.”
“How you doin’?”
He was awkward and I was terrified. Not knowing what else to say, he asked, “So, what do you want to be when you grow up?”
“I want to be a writer,” I said without hesitation.
That seemed to make both of us relax a bit and he said, “Well, it’s looks like you’re doing pretty good. You just keep trying. You’re going to be a great writer.”
I couldn’t believe this was really happening.
“Thank you, sir”
“Okay, Colonel, we’re ready!” one of the others announced and just like that, Captain Kirk was transported elsewhere.
Five years later, after he recovered from post-lunar alcoholism, Buzz wrote an autobiography appropriately titled “Return To Earth” saying in part, “I spent my entire life learning how to get to the moon and after I went there, I didn’t know what to do next.” I got a review copy sent to me and immediately turned to the part where he described coming back to Montclair. Maybe, I thought, he would recall meeting the precocious yet inspiring young man from the old neighborhood who single-handedly restored his faith in the next generation. That wasn’t in the book. Almost as an afterthought I turned to the part when he walked on the moon. It wasn’t hard to find.
He wrote that as he stepped upon the moon’s surface he realized that “‘Neil might have been the first man to step on the moon, but I was the first to pee in his pants on the moon.” *
He lied to me!. Captain Kirk lied to me! I asked him the right question of the right person in the right time and place… and he lied to me! If he had told me the truth, that while the whole world watching, Buzz “was the only one who knew what they were really witnessing,” my life would have been so much different. I would have been the kid who got the astronaut to admit that he pissed on the moon! That would have been a big story in the summer of 1969, and, at the very least, today I would be the answer to a Trivial Pursuit question: What was the name of the kid who got the astronaut to admit that he pissed on the moon?
I’d like to say that it was all his fault, that I was a fresh-faced innocent cherub until the day Captain Kirk lied to me, but that would also be a lie. By the time I read the truth about the man who pissed on the moon I was already the boy who scammed New York. Another story. Another time.
(excerpt from The Art of The Lie © 2019 TrineDay Press)